Best Bits: FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE - Mako Reactor 5

We take a in-depth look at one of the most memorable sections of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE - the mission to Mako Reactor 5 and the epic battle that follows (spoilers).
By Duncan Heaney

In Best Bits, the Square Enix Blog team looks at some of our favorite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?

When we think about Best Bits, our decision often comes down to one question: if you could show a new player one section of the game to really sell them on it, which would it be?

For FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, perhaps it would be the opening bombing mission, which gets the game underway in spectacular style. Or maybe Cloud’s early trip to the upper plate residential area - a fascinating look at the lives of the wealthier citizens of Midgar.

Or I could just say the words ‘Wall Market’ and those of you who’ve played the game will nod sagely in agreement while trying to keep a straight face about what’s to come.

But for me, there’s a particular sequence that shows the game firing on all cylinders - the team’s assault on Mako Reactor 5 in Chapter 7.

BEWARE: Story details for Chapter 7 of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE follow. Scroll beneath the spoiler-Barret at your own peril

What happens in Mako Reactor 5?

Mercenary Cloud Strife has joined Barret Wallace and Tifa Lockhart on a mission to sabotage an energy reactor that’s sucking the life out of the planet. Things haven’t gone particularly smoothly so far, but they’ve finally made it in.

Everything is ominously quiet. Security is unnervingly light - a few fire-flinging bioweapons and sawblade-swinging security mechs, but nothing that gives the team much trouble. They do pass one particularly buff bot - Barret comments that it would be very bad if it were to wake up (foreshadowing!).

Before long, the team reach the reactor pump and sets their bomb. And that’s when the villainous Shinra Electric Power Company springs its trap. Not only do the executives know that our heroes are there, they’re also broadcasting the assault live on television.

Rather than freedom fighters, the team will be portrayed as terrorists working for a foreign power, and the broadcast will culminate with their messy execution by the terrifying robot they saw earlier - the Airbuster.

Fortunately, the team has other ideas. They resolve to humiliate their foe by taking down the bot, and making their daring escape.

Charting a path through the reactor, they move carefully from room to room, battling Shinra’s elite security forces and knowing that every step takes them closer to an encounter with the pinnacle of Shinra’s military hardware.

So why is this section so effective? Well, let’s start with the team itself.

It strengthens the characters

To say that Cloud and Barret get off on the wrong foot would be an understatement. The two heroes constantly butt heads - to the point where early in the story Barret tries to cut ties with the former SOLDIER completely.

So one of the great joys of the mission to Mako Reactor 5 is watching the icy relationship between Cloud and Barret thaw, and a mutual respect start to emerge. This is made clear as the dialogue moves from snippy and insulting to familiar and friendly. Cloud even makes a joke!

But aside from his developing friendships, the section also works as a showcase for Barret in general. We see him demonstrate exactly why he’s able to lead his AVALANCHE cell - his passion for the planet, his unbridled rage at Shinra and his concern for his comrades are all on full display.

He’s also hysterical. When he finds out he’s on TV his attempts to turn opinion against Shinra don’t exactly go according to plan.

Your choices in Mako Reactor 5 matter

A few weeks ago, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi talked to us about the importance of giving players options.

“That’s not just important for battles, but also for all kinds of gaming mechanics,” he told us. “But what’s really important for players is that feeling that they’ve made a decision on how to play, and get the feedback that they’ve done well because of it.”

That philosophy permeates throughout FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. Some choices are subtle - for example, you must constantly evaluate your actions and battle strategy. What move is right for this situation? Should you heal or go on the attack? Which character is the best fit to take on which enemy?

Some are more formal like choosing how Cloud responds to certain characters, or what materia to equip for each party member. The choices you’re asked to make in Chapter 7 are some of the most obvious in the game - but no less meaningful.

As you escape the reactor, Shinra’s harried technicians are scrambling to get the Air Buster battle-ready for the inevitable confrontation. It’s nearly ready to go, but a few components still need to be added - and that gives our heroes an opportunity for a little industrial sabotage.

In each room are between one and four terminals. If Cloud and co can find a single-use keycard, they can use these terminals to remove modules from their incoming enemy. The problem is that there are more terminals than there are cards, and this forces you to make some difficult decisions.

For example, do you remove some of the Big Bomber shells, negating one of the enemy’s strongest attacks? Do you remove the AI cores to slow it down and reduce stun attacks? Or do you go for an M-Unit which doesn’t affect the battle, but does give you access to useful items if you can find them.

You’ll never be able to completely nullify the Airbuster entirely, but it still gives a degree of control over the battle - before it even starts. It’s such a cool idea.

The Airbuster is a battle for the ages

Finally it’s time to take on the Airbuster, and it’s more than a simple boss battle. It’s an event.

This mechanical monstrosity has been carefully built up over the course of a whole chapter. Every step, every decision has been leading to this point - and it has a lot to live up to.

Boy, does it deliver!

Read more:

In the fantastic Inside FINAL FANTASY VII video documentary series (which you can watch here), Lead Battle Designer Tomotaka Shiroichi explained how the boss battles were inspired by four frame manga. Essentially, the boss battles tell a ‘story’ over four phases. He explains:

Encounter the enemy and start the battle in phase 1. Show each other’s hand and the boss takes the lead in phase 2.

In phase 3, the boss shows you the signature attacks, and the players start fighting back. That’s when bosses start revealing their weaknesses. Phase 4 is the climax and introduces the next part of the storyline.

That structure is on full display with Airbuster and it works brilliantly. The opening phase mimics the original game with the party split up on a narrow gangway. You get a sample of what the boss can do, but it’s when you step into phase two that things really shift into gear.

Now the boss unleashes its terrifying Tankbuster attack - a solid beam of energy that will devastate anyone careless enough to stand in its path. After a beating, the boss detaches its hands so they can harass you independently. It’s all very stressful - in the best possible way.

When you do enough damage, the boss enters its final phase, and things go into overdrive. A blast from the Airbuster tears apart the walkway, creating a new environment in which to fight. It also takes to the sky, using its impressive mobility to pepper the team from long range, only flying in to unleash an even more dangerous assault.

In short, the sense of escalation is palpable and it makes for a hugely exciting and cinematic encounter. It’s also one that brilliantly plays to the strengths of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE’s combat system.

You’ll have to constantly switch characters for different scenarios - Barret to deal damage at range, and Cloud or Tifa to deliver a beating up close. You’ll likely needs someone available for healing too.

You also really need to watch your positioning - if you’re in the way of some of the more dangerous attacks, you’re going to regret it. And the constantly shifting conditions of the fight mean you must be ready to find new strategies on the fly - there are those options again.

In short, it’s a boss fight for the history books - I can’t imagine many gaming moments in 2020 will be quite this exhilarating.

Oh, and the battle music? chef’s kiss.

In case you can’t tell, I really like Chapter 7 of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. The trip to Mako Reactor 5 definitely stands as one of my favorite parts of the adventure.

If you haven’t played it the game yet, it would be worth picking up just for this section. Fortunately, the whole game is full of similarly memorable moments - you’d probably find your own Best Bit fairly soon.

Also, I’ll just drop this here:

For those of you who have played the game, you can share your own Best Bits with the FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE team on social media: